Chairwoman of group leading Wentworth Woodhouse restoration made a Dame

The chairwoman of the organisation which is leading the restoration of Wentworth Woodhouse has said she believes the mansion is a rival to any of the UK’s greatest properties, after being told she is being made a Dame.

Julie Kenny, who said she is “amazed and humbled” to receive the honour, explained how the grand country house, just outside Rotherham, represents a “beacon” for South Yorkshire.

Once one of the great mansions of Georgian England, Wentworth Woodhouse slipped into a state of disrepair in the second half of the 20th century.

Wentworth Woodhouse
Julie Kenny said Wentworth Woodhouse acts as a ‘beacon’ for the people of South Yorkshire (Aaron Chown/PA)

With Mrs Kenny acting as chairwoman, and with SAVE Britain’s Heritage supporting them, the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust bought the mansion and its 83 acres for £7 million in 2017, with the intention of reversing decades of decay.

The 61-year-old, an entrepreneur in security systems who was made a CBE in 2002 for services to industry in Yorkshire and the Humber, explained how her first sight of the mansion helped inspire her to spearhead the regeneration project.

“I remember the first time I saw the house and feeling so in awe of this majestic building,” she said.

Wentworth Woodhouse
It is hoped the regeneration project will restore the mansion to its former glory (Aaron Chown/PA)

“I could not believe we had something so beautiful here in Rotherham, a property rivalling the greatest houses in the UK – a real jewel.”

She explained how, after hearing of the “neglect and trauma” that the property had been through, she made it her intention to make Wentworth Woodhouse an economic regenerator for the region.

“I felt that in time it would be a destination for people from around the world, and how proud that would make the people of Rotherham feel about their heritage again”, Mrs Kenny added.

The mansion’s 606ft facade is wider than Buckingham Palace, a building it once played in the film Darkest Hour.

It actually comprises two grand houses, including a baroque West Front from about 1725 and a Palladian East Front, and was visited by Princess Victoria in 1835 and King George V in 1912.

But, by the time the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust bought it, some of the estate’s buildings were riddled with asbestos, collapsed drains, dry rot and rotting timbers.

Wentworth Woodhouse
The country house is in need of rejuvenation (Aaron Chown/PA)

With funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund, and with more than 100 volunteers, it is hoped that the building can be restored to its former glory over the course of more than a decade and fully opened to the public.

Mrs Kenny, a self-made businesswoman who had an “impoverished” childhood in Sheffield, said the campaign to buy the house was “probably the hardest challenge I have ever faced”.

“It took hard work, stamina, focus and negotiation skills and above all the resolve to persevere and never to give up, even when the going got tough,” she said.

On plans for the future, the mother-of-three said: “We are putting right the wrongs of past years for the future of our local community, and the nation.

“We still have a long way to go and several mountains to climb, but we have a great team, which is led by our very skilful CEO, Sarah McLeod.

“And we now have the time and the opportunity to make our dream a reality.”

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